I once listened to a group of country club Republicans discuss whether America should “turn the Middle East into a parking lot.” It was not one of those anger filled discussions in the wake of 9/11. Rather, it was a serious discussion about the course of action that would suit America needs best. Some favored that course of action. Others were more cautious, opining that there were more effective ways to make “those people” behave better. None, however, was terribly concerned by the thought of slaughtering tens of millions.
From the inception of his campaign, Donald Trump has promised he will implement policies that will make Mexico and China both behave.
Hillary Clinton now regrets her support for the Iraq War. She understands that it was ill-conceived. She understands the tremendous financial cost to America. She regrets the loss of American troops. She understands the destabilizing impact of the war and how it likely gave rise to ISIS. Is she bothered by the untold misery inflicted on the Iraqi people? I’m not sure, but based on her public remarks, that doesn’t seem to have much to do with her regret for supporting the war.
Notice the common thread?
American exceptionalism? Sort of. I’d say it’s what you get when a society falsely considers itself exceptional for far too long. To believe Americans are exceptional is to believe others are something less than we. When others are something less, you can consider such things as turning populated areas into parking lots. You can evaluate decisions to engage militarily only through the lens of whether the objectives were achieved. You can think in terms of making others “behave.”
Is this different from Germans considering themselves to be the master race? Hopefully, yes. But we’ve not yet seen where American exceptionalism will end. And parallels do exist. Germany under the Nazis sought “Lebensraum,” or living space, at the expense of others. America has plenty of space, but it is seeking to continue its disproportionate use of resources at the expense of others. Has our descent into continuous war been driven by the need of our population, less than 5% of the world total, to consume 25% of the world’s resources? Or is it coincidence that the focal point of our military engagement is the place where those resources happen to be found?
Whether it’s Trump telling us he’ll make America great again or Clinton explaining that we alone are the indispensable nation, the ill-conceived notion of American exceptionalism is certain to survive this election.
So I wonder: As we commiserate about the choice presented to us and the unprecedented unfavorable ratings of both candidates, do we consider that maybe those unfavorable ratings for Trump and Clinton are about a nation looking at itself in the mirror, and not liking what it sees?